Juan Rangel

By Juan Rangel

The Importance of Being “the Bumpers” For Others

Denzel Washington says, “at the end of the day it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished.  It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better.  It’s about what you’ve given back.”

For me, the benefits of giving back have always been greater than not giving at all. I have been involved in volunteering and assisting community organizations since I was young, and my activities have ranged from selling baseball candy for my team, being an altar boy at St. Charles Catholic Church, youth sports, high school & college clubs (Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, student government treasurer, National Honor Fraternity-Blue Key) and serving on many boards throughout my professional career. I have found that these experiences have allowed me to learn different transferrable skills and continue to prepare me for my next experience or service to our city.

When I reflect on my career, I consider the best training I received in the purpose of giving back was 30 years ago when I went through an eight-week training with David Renz at UMKC Not for Profit with 15 other young Latinx leaders that taught us what it means to be on a board. In this training I learned what my role and responsibilities would be as a board member, the different intricacies of governance, board development, reading organizational financials, raising dollars, and sitting on committees.  Then at the end of the eight-week training I was placed on my first board which was Synergy Services a domestic violence and youth homelessness organization.

I’ll never forget my first board meeting with Synergy Services – I was GREEN, and I felt like a fish out of water, sitting with high level individuals of our community. I had to remind myself that they put their pants on like I do to feel less intimidated! But when I asked questions or timidly shared concern, I felt I was listened to and supported. I fell in love with the organization, and I was able to share my “time” and new “talent” as an Executive Director of historical Civil Rights Organization. I also learned a lot about sharing “treasure:” it’s one thing to make your own financial commitment, but it’s different when you ask others to support what you believe in and be prepared to support their passion project as well.

Before I knew it, I was asked to sit on the Northwest Missouri State University Board of Trustees and then Children’s Mercy Hospital Board – I felt like I must have been added to a secret list for two large organizations to approach me, and I was honored to serve but also committed to help.  As I evolved in my experience sitting on boards, several more organizations asked me to join their boards, and at times I questioned what it was about me that they wanted.  Was it my life or professional experience? my representation as a Latinx individual? my love for our community? I feel that in some part it is an aggregation of all those things, and in return my board service has broadened my world view of how our community operates.

Since joining Synergy Services I have served on 30+ boards across our city and state. I often believe I gain more than what I offer with my time, talent, and treasure.  It has allowed me to establish a strong network to assist on other community projects I am working on.  I have served on education, social service, and affinity group boards, but I have always served organizations where their mission connects to my value system or some part of my life.  My life path was not always so easy but I was supported by many individuals who served as metaphorical bumpers at the bowling ally, and didn’t let me go into the gutter, instead allowed me to hit or 1 or 2 pins and occasionally a strike!  As I sit in a board seat today I think of all those individuals that believed in me and helped me get to where I am today, and I feel it’s my turn to give back and serve as the “bumpers” for other individuals navigating life.

After 30 years serving on boards, I feel that I am in a new chapter of my community experience, where I can mentor and assist other professionals in finding board experience that fit their passions and strengths. Advice that I often give people is be willing to ask the tough questions, be engaged, support leadership and help develop strategy.  I also tell people that serving on boards has allowed me to learn a lot about myself, and that you can only give 100% if you personally believe in the mission of the organization.

It may sound cliched but giving back to my community over the years has given me a sense of purpose. I am thankful for the personal and professional growth it has given me, as well as the deeper understanding of our community assets and deficits, and the many friends I have met along the way.  If I leave any legacy for my family, I hope they will remember me as a dot connector. My commitment to connecting dots and giving back to my community.

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